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Making a Difference in Heart Health Locally

Written by  Rich Ellis

The prevalence of heart disease isn’t limited to just Lynchburg or Virginia. It’s the leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 370,000 people annually, according to the American Heart Association. When statistics for stroke and other cardiovascular diseases are combined with those for heart disease, the number of deaths attributable to one of those three causes rises to approximately one in three deaths in the U.S. — more than 800,000 people — in 2013, the most recent year for which data is currently available. Local efforts backed by national support are focused on lowering those deadly statistics. 

First-ever local Heart Walk aims to combat cardiovascular disease, improve health.

The Lynchburg chapter of the American Heart Association (AHA) is working to raise funds for and awareness about heart disease and heart-healthy living with the debut of AHA’s Heart Walk April 22 at Peaks View Park in Lynchburg.
A longstanding annual event in other cities across the country, Heart Walk features teams walking 1-, 3- or 4-mile courses at this family-friendly gathering, explains Ashley Ege, development director for the American Heart Association’s Lynchburg chapter. Immediately following the walk, which begins at 10 a.m., there are additional activities, including a kid zone, face painting, balloon animals, hands-on CPR instruction, activities around nutrition and fitness, and a heart-healthy lunch. More than 500 walkers are expected to participate, and additional information is available online at

Ege explained that AHA is introducing Heart Walk to Lynchburg because the organization saw it as a great opportunity, because the community had asked for it, and because obesity and tobacco use in Lynchburg is higher than the state’s overall average. AHA is trying to make an impact in the community through events such as Heart Walk.

“The hope with Heart Walk is that people will actually start ‘heart walking’ and walking more to become healthier,” Ege explains. “Teams participating in Heart Walk raise money, and we have a lot of great sponsors who have rallied around the event to get the community healthier.”

To date, more than $40,000 has been raised toward a goal of $50,000 — a target that Ege predicts AHA will easily beat.

“The money that’s raised comes back to the community in forms of lifesaving,” Ege explains, “such as police offers carrying AEDs or the requirement that was passed for children to receive CPR training before graduating high school.”
In addition to the Heart Walk, AHA’s Lynchburg chapter is also introducing a new, free wellness program called “Healthy for Good.” Organized in conjunction with the Heart Walk, the program enables people to link their wearable fitness monitors, such as Fitbits, to the Healthy for Good website. After linking to the site at, participants can participate in fitness challenges with other members, access heart-healthy recipes, and read heart-health-related articles.

“This is a brand-new program being introduced nationally,” Ege says. “The goal is to be a movement that inspires people to create lasting change in their health, one step at a time. Our approach is eat smart, add color, move more and be well.”
Despite sobering statistics that show the prevalence of heart disease nationwide, there is good news locally.

Deaths in Virginia attributable to heart disease and stroke have declined for more than a decade, and some of the credit for the decline undoubtedly lies with efforts put forth throughout the Commonwealth by the American Heart Association’s local chapters, including the one in Lynchburg.

Ege outlined the organization’s goals that help guide efforts at both the local and national levels, including building healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke, and by 2020, improving all Americans’ cardiovascular health by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20 percent.

Backing from the parent organization means Ege has a powerful ally in the local fight against heart disease. The American Heart Association is the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. Founded by six cardiologists in 1924, the AHA today includes more than 22.5 million volunteers and supporters, 156 local offices and 3,000-plus employees funding innovative research, fighting for stronger public health policies, and providing critical tools and information to save and improve lives.

One of the first steps toward improving heart health is ending obesity. According to the AHA, approximately 35 percent of Virginia adults are overweight and another 28 percent are obese. Additionally, 30 percent of Virginia’s 10- to 17-year-olds are overweight or obese, with Virginia ranking first in the United States for childhood obesity rates among 2- to 5-year-olds.

To help lower those rates, the American Heart Association is supporting a state advocacy priority this year that ensures healthy food and beverage options are available in public places, such as parks, recreation centers, libraries and other buildings. AHA is also advocating for the creation of the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund, which could increase healthy food retail options in Lynchburg and other communities.

AHA’s staff and volunteers also focus on helping people control and reduce high blood pressure. It’s estimated that 80 million Americans have high blood pressure, and in about half of them, it’s uncontrolled, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and other major health problems. In Virginia, approximately 28 percent of residents have been informed by their physicians that they have high blood pressure. It can be controlled, however, and throughout Virginia AHA is working with medical partners through a nationwide initiative called Target: BP to help patients reduce their blood pressure to healthy levels.

AHA also advocates for local, state and national laws that improve the health of all people. In 2013, for example, AHA advocates were instrumental in passing Gwyneth’s Law, requiring all Virginia high school students to be CPR-trained before graduating. And in 2014, AHA helped pass legislation requiring that all Virginia newborns receive pulse oximetry screening to detect congenital heart defects — the most common birth defect in infants worldwide.

Individuals or organizations interested in volunteering with or donating to the American Heart Association’s Lynchburg chapter or receiving information about sponsorship opportunities should contact Ashley Ege at 540-309-1302.


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